Jim Milligan – 3M Exec to Olive Oil Purveyor


Jim Milligan might well be considered the Howard Schultz of olive oil. Like Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, it was on his business trips to Europe, and Italy in particular, that Milligan became enraptured by the quality and variety of extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, and the practice of offering customers the option of combining and tasting the products as both sales incentive and education. His career reinvention has been a successful pivot to that vision.

When Milligan retired from his 30-year career at the 3M Company in Minneapolis, MN, he knew exactly what he and his wife Lane were going to do: move to Traverse City, MI and open up an olive oil retail business. Traverse City had been in their sights for some time, and they had spent many family vacations in this charming small resort city on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Milligan’s career had spanned marketing, sales and international operations for 3M’s data storage business, so on the one hand, the idea that he could switch to a small retail business might have seemed absurdly risky. But Milligan was also a smart marketer, and a quick study, savvy enough to start a niche business in a growing market.

By 2007, the “foodie” revolution was well under way, and consumer interest in high quality niche products was peaking. Milligan saw the potential synergies: selling a quality import to vacationers with disposable income looking for gifts to bring home, local restaurants upgrading and marketing the quality of their offerings, and the ability to build a global retail presence on the internet. When a small business is “just right,” it can take off quickly, and as Boomers, our years of life and work experience give us the edge in knowing how to target a market, launch a business, and refine the operations to make it successful.

Fustini’s Olive Oils & Vinegars opened in Traverse City in March, 2008. The business name was taken from the stainless steel urn, the fustino, used by Italian merchants to store and dispense the olive oil. The store was an instant hit. As Milligan explained to Michael Patrick Shiels on Michigan’s Big Show podcast, “Within about 30 days of [opening] on Front St. in Traverse City, I knew this was going to work.” Despite the initial vote of confidence from the public, the first year, like most if not all startups, was intense. “At the beginning, my wife and I did it all: production, sales, finance, advertising – everything! But it was a blast!” The business grew steadily to the point where Milligan was able to start bringing on management staff, and opened his second location the following summer, and a third and fourth location in 2010. Since then, another two locations have opened, including the first foray outside of Michigan, on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Milligan has done a great job staying on top of the business, and infusing (pun intended) the brand with all of the necessary features to make it successful. He has published four cookbooks, one of which was compiled from recipes submitted by customers. Each store features regular events for the local communities, including tastings and cooking classes, partnering with local chefs and restaurants. Milligan has not been shy about using the internet and social media to promote the business, with the requisite Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter feed. <a href=”http://www.fustinis.com/” target=”_hplink”>Fustini’s website</a> contains a wealth of helpful information about olive oil’s relationship to health, including downloadable recipes and guides. All products may of course be purchased online.

Success like Milligan’s encore career reinvention are within reach of all of us in this generation who are looking to reinvigorate our lives. Many of us get caught up in the limitations and reflexive mental blocks that tell us we can’t do something because we’ve never done it before. This is what I like to call “stinking thinking.” I will bet that for every Boomer who fears not knowing what to do or how to do their third act/encore career, there is a persistent theme, a favorite fantasy, a preferred pastime – something to draw on that we can use to take the next step forward. Fear not: Fear is only an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Think about it.

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John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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